Vaclav Havel European Parliament/Flickr

Refugees and Responsibility in Central Europe

In the debate about Europe's ongoing refugee crisis, it is as if the clash between closed-minded chauvinism and open-hearted humanism had drowned out common sense. To think more clearly about the subject, all Europeans would do well to recall Václav Havel’s take on it.

PRAGUE – Fifteen years ago, the Czech statesman and playwright Václav Havel noted that some Czech politicians “recognize two different kinds of violence, genocide, terror, and mafias: one that is better, and one that is worse. The better kind is pan-Slavic, and the worse kind is Islamic.” The response to the current influx of mostly non-European refugees and migrants suggests that this worldview – shaped by fear of the unknown – remains pervasive in Central Europe today.

The hatred, open racism, and barely hidden longing for refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire that has emerged is, among other things, the result of a long-standing tolerance of intolerance in Central Europe. Such intolerance is not blind; it is aimed at people of a different race, persuasion, or opinion, who represent, at best, some kind of abstract entity, and, at worst, a threat.

This intolerance intensifies with ignorance. The absence of direct experience with people of a different culture, race, or religion leaves space for prejudice, myths, and dark rumors, reinforced by the apocalyptic rendering of the tabloid media.

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